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Q&A and Platoon are two of the most interesting new artist-focused music companies to emerge in recent years, and we had their founders Troy Carter and Denzyl Feigelson in conversation at Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit Global conference today, interviewed by Music Ally CEO Paul Brindley.

From working with top artists at early stages of their careers (a 14 year-old Billie Eilish for Platoon; Lady Gaga for Carter in his initial management days) to experience within the biggest music-tech companies (Platoon is now owned by Apple; Carter headed up Spotify’s creator services division) and a firm focus on artist development in the digital era, they had plenty of knowledge to impart.

In fact, their first connection was when Feigelson was involved in Apple’s iTunes Festival in London and Carter was managing Lady Gaga, and they bonded over what Carter described as “that appreciation for artists and an appreciation for ideas and creativity and quality”.

Both are now providing artist development services and tools in an era where the balance of power is shifting towards artists.

“Both Troy and I know all too well how the world works, and that is: every artist is a complete unique DNA. What I’ve learnt over my time: there’s just not one way that works for every artist,” said Feigelson.

“I think the power has always been in artists, and I’ve been an artist manager since the early 90s. But the world has changed, and technology has changed. We now have these powerful little devices in our hands, that we didn’t have then. And that’s what’s made the biggest changes: this access.”

“So when you deal with artists, it’s that they have a message and they have something they want to say. And they have a fanbase out there, they have a tribe. And our job is to just help them connect with that tribe that’s already looking for them. And there’s just no one way of doing that. There’s just a way of squeezing the artist, going ‘Who are you? What are you made of? And how can we help?’”

He noted that this explosion in access has meant an explosion in music being released, and a battle for any artist to cut through that noise and find their tribe.

Carter agreed, citing Spotify’s recent claim that “it’s not the top 40 any more, it’s the top 43,000” as evidence.

“On one side, it’s definitely great. More artists are getting heard. But in terms of being able to have people go deep on artists and to be able to make sure that artists can actually build a career and people can invest their time? That’s the thing,” he said.

“When you’re building fans, and you’re building that relationship between fans and artists, it’s a tremendous amount of time invested from that fan into that artist, and vice versa. And so what I’m thinking a lot about is what are those mechanisms?”

“Playlists are churning quicker and quicker now, and people are moving through songs faster and faster, and on top of that we’re competing with Fortnite, with Netflix, with Instagram, with TikTok from a time perspective,” he continued.

“So how are we partnering up with those types of platforms? How are we finding new ways to connect those fans with those artists and vice versa? If there’s one thing that keeps me up at night, it’s that! It’s thinking about what are those ways to keep it sticky?”

Cracking these problems doesn’t necessarily make a Platoon or a Q&A a competitor to a major label: often they’re partners, particularly when they have developed an artist to the point where a major can add value.

Carter was asked about his comments earlier this year expressing surprise that major labels hadn’t moved to launch their own music streaming services, just as Disney had launched its own video streaming service (Disney+) to compete with Netflix.

“A good example is when you look at Mulan, that Disney just released, and you look at… Drake or Post Malone or Justin Bieber would be Universal’s equivalent of a Mulan, when you think about big-ticket priority for that particular year,” he said.

“When Universal can put out a Post Malone record that will only reach 10-15% of his audience within that first week, and then week over week it may diminish. Versus Disney+ which they released Mulan, and it’s top billing on their platform, and they’re going to make sure that it’s a priority, the same way Netflix releases a Will Smith movie, or Stranger Things, whichever their top priority may be at that particular time.”

“So as a content provider and a distributor, a platform, you get to pick what your priorities are, versus the opposite where somebody else chooses the priority on your behalf, and can see the amount of audience that it may penetrate that week. That’s why I was surprised that the labels hadn’t gotten to that point yet.”

Feigelson offered a Platoon perspective, noting that it remains resolutely independent, even within Apple’s umbrella.

“Because it’s important to artists to not just be part of one platform for now. I totally see Troy’s point, and he’s right. Things will change, because you can see – and especially in a Covid world – things are going to change even more in order for artists to reach their fans,” he said.

“In times like these, new innovative ways will come out of trying to reach more fans. To me, I feel like we’re just all brands swimming in the same soup. I look at the charts, at least in the UK, and it’s one or two independents on the chart, maybe, every week.”

“My goal is like: why is that? I’d love to see some of my artists on some of those charts, and what do I have to do, to do that… Why is there just this stream of 50 tracks or 100 tracks all on the major side? And you realise they know how to play their game. They’ve perfected it over the last 70, 80 years really well.”

Carter chimed back in. “I do the exact same thing. I look at charts and I look at playlists, and I look at independents versus majors on those lists and it’s just incredibly disproportionate.”

“And that’s a good challenge for us to see. But we’ve all had relationships with them over time, and it’s good. This is all very healthy. We’re a very independent-minded company, and we need to stay that way. And it’s really about how do we help an artist build a business?” said Feigelson.

“Because if you help an artist build a successful business, not just a sustainable business, but a super-successful business, you’re partners with that artist.”

Platoon has run a number of experiments on that front, from paying artists on a weekly basis – something that breaks them out of the advance-and-recoup system – to working with artists on their finances: “Getting them spreadsheets: how much money do you need to live? Things like that,” he said.

“There is a new generation of artists who are seeing the making of money as just as creative as the making of music, and that’s what’s exciting to us at this moment in time. This new generation of artists who have something to say, and do understand that they need to have successful businesses.”

What about the more established artists, even up to the Drake level, who may be currently in deals with major labels, but know they have options when those deals come to an end?

“When you look at music as an asset class it becomes very attractive because of the predictability, when you have catalogue and especially history,” said Carter, citing Hipgnosis Songs Fund as a company that has “caught the industry off guard” by snapping up catalogues.

“It’s basically like how Netflix caught the studios off guard, because it was the history of how business had been done. And for him [Hipgnosis founder Merck Mercuriadis] to come in so aggressively, and I think the markets – whether it’s private equity or public markets, or pension funds and things along those lines – are seeing that this is a real asset class.”

“It’s no different from if it’s royalties from an artist like a Drake or Adele or Taylor or Gaga, these big superstar artists, all the way down to artists who may have a couple of hits under their belts. There’s going to be these different models that are in place. We’re seeing the money show up for it, and the technology is there as well in terms of all of the data. So I think it’s inevitable.”

Carter said that the major labels and their histories still provide an element of security for big artists, who trust them to work their records around the world, as they always have done. But other artists will look to new models.

Feigelson agreed, and suggested that managers will be increasingly able to take those decisions in partnership with their artists.

“Their offices are busy. They’ve got a digital person, they’ve got an international person, they’ve got a creative person, they’ve got a technology person,” he said.

“The data and the analytics and the amount of information you get these days is so fantastic: from Spotify for Artists, from Apple Music for Artists, from Pandora for Artists. You start amalgamating all this incredible data, and you’ve really got some tools on your hand, if you know how to read it and you’ve got [smart] people on your team… I see managers now just really having those services in-house.”

“The younger managers! We’re meeting a lot of young managers who are just way ahead,” said Carter. “Way ahead!” agreed Feigelson. “The two of us, put us together and we’re pretty smart, but these kids are just way ahead!”

Should major labels be concerned about these trends though?

“I don’t think so. I think they’re smart enough to adapt. They may be slow to adapt, but they’re smart enough to adapt,” said Feigelson. “It’s about the money too, and right now the money is flowing again at the majors. When the money’s flowing, everything’s good. When the money’s not flowing, everybody starts getting a little scratchy.”

Carter said he has a natural affinity towards managers, so understands the tensions. “It’s a sort of control friction point. To labels’ credits, they invest an extreme amount of money into an artist when they sign an artist, and with managers, we invest an extreme amount of time. Like, it’s a capital expense for us. Sometimes we have to put up money here and there, but for the most part it’s time in the beginning versus money. And for the label it’s money versus time,” he said.

“With that being said, what I notice is that labels want to control access a lot of times, and can get territorial, and by nature managers… we can be territorial as well… Managers have always been in the 360, ‘I’m in this with this artist on everything: We are going to be broke together and eat ramen and we are going to sleep on that apartment floor, and we are going to help build this business together’ essentially.”

“And so that’s where you see that long arc and that close relationship. Labels try to get into that same business without providing that service or investing that time. So if labels get serious about investing that time, and making that level of commitment that managers make, I think they could be in the artist business even deeper… I do think there is a longer-term model where the label’s role starts to evolve and change.”

Music Ally’s next Learn Live webinar will help you understand what’s required for artists to thrive in new international markets!

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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